Monday, June 22, 2015

Combating Cyber-Bullying

Lots of adults today can remember being bullied as children. Years later, the sting of an unkind comment or others’ derisive laughter still hurts. But imagine that the witnesses to one’s shame were not limited to those within earshot of the slight. What if hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, most of them strangers, could see what happened? And what if they could participate in the taunting? Cyber-bullying amplifies bullying to unimaginable levels, making its victims’ lives nearly unbearable.

And who better to talk about the topic of online humiliation that self-described “Patient Zero” Monica Lewinsky? Lewinsky’s scandal was a perfect storm in many ways: It was the most salacious political drama our country has ever experienced, and it happened just as internet technology was becoming ubiquitous. Instead of simply discussing her story among themselves after reading about her in the paper, people around the world could post comments about her for all to see.

Years later, Lewinsky is back in the spotlight, this time by choice. She is campaigning for a more compassionate online community, and she shares some excellent advice in a recent talk . Here are some of her key points, along with some of our own suggestions for parents struggling to help their children navigate these uncharted waters:
  • Parents of young children should do what they can to supervise kids’ time online. Consider allowing kids to go online only on a desktop computer in a public place (e.g. the kitchen) whose screen faces the room, not a wall. Stop by often to talk with them about what they’re viewing and participating in. This can be an excellent opportunity to teach kids about dangerous online behavior, like connecting with strangers. 
  • Parents who are more internet-savvy than their kids (and we know there are fewer and fewer of those out there) should be sure that they are connected with their little ones on any online network accounts their kids have. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, following your kids will serve two purposes: First, it will make them think twice about what they post, and second, it will give adults opportunities to talk with kids about what kind of posts they may consider appropriate for public knowledge. (“What do you think could happen if you share your address in your online profile?” “Do you think someone might misinterpret that picture if they don’t have any context?”)
Of course, parents can’t, and shouldn’t, monitor every facet of their kids’ online lives, especially as they get older. Instead, try to help kids see the people at the center of scandals as just that: people.
  • ·Avoid talking excitedly about celebrity scandals. Instead of watching shows dedicated to gossip, passing judgment in kids’ hearing about the decisions of perfect strangers, or picking up tabloids, adults should model compassion. Pointing out how embarrassed the subject of a shocking headline must be enforces their humanity and shows kids how to be empathetic. Comment that you’re certainly glad none of your mistakes were shared with the world. 
  • Lewinsky urges people to be “up-standers” instead of merely bystanders. Post positive, supportive comments, and make sure kids know you’re doing it. Compassionate responses can mean a lot to victims of online bullying, and your empathy can change the tone of an online thread. And report cyber-bullying when outlets have those options.
Lewinsky says, “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression.” Help young people understand that the internet gives them great power, and along with power comes responsibility.

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